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One year later: Busy mom has 'complete response' to chemo

Peggy Anderson and her husband, Jay,after the couple shaved their heads. Peggy starting losing her hair during chemotherapy to fight breast cancer, and Jay shaved his head to support her.

By KATIE CLONTZ - kclontz@thecouriertimes.com

Last October, at the age of 30, Peggy Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Now, one year later, doctors say Anderson, who grew up in Henry County, has shown a “complete response” to chemotherapy. 

“They have not said that I am in remission,” Anderson said. “I was told that the doctors don’t want to say that I am in remission until we are three to five years away from treatment, due to the high rate of reoccurrence. They did say that I had a complete response to chemo, meaning chemo worked and killed the cancer!” 

A busy wife and mother, Anderson and her husband, Jay, are raising five children. The couple will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary this year. 

Diagnosed with a type of breast cancer called invasive ductile carcinoma, Anderson has spent the last year undergoing treatment, including six months of chemotherapy, a double (bilateral) mastectomy and six weeks of intense radiation treatments. 

Just two and a half weeks after her first chemo treatment, Anderson started losing her hair.

“This past year has been hard for my family and I,” she said. “I have been sick and not able to be the mom that I wanted to be. My husband had to work 14-16 hours a day and come home and work, take care of children and take care of me. He is a super hero. He was my support when I just was too tired. He made me fight. He even shaved my head when I had no choice but to shave it. Then he shaved his to support me.”

Anderson was also estrogen and progesteron negative and HER2 positive, meaning she has a gene that plays a role in the development of breast cancer and makes it more aggressive. Because of that, she also had to take a specific type of medication for one year called herceptin, which was supposed to help prevent the cancer from coming back. 

“Radiation was horrible,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t sleep. It made me sick. I had blisters and burns. Imagine the worst sunburn you have ever had and multiply the effects by 75. Radiation was the hardest for me.”

However, despite the side effects of radiation, Anderson still managed to coach a baseball team while undergoing treatment.

“My local baseball league (Brooklyn Little League) has been extremely supportive,” she said. “All of our All-Star teams had a pink ribbon on their uniforms for me. They helped me so that I could be out there doing what I love, coaching.”

Anderson said she is also blessed to have received the help of many friends. 

“One of my friends came to stay with me after my mastectomy from Utah and another from Washington. One of my friends went to every single chemo treatment with me,” she recalled. 

Anderson’s cancer experience also put her in contact with an organization called the Megan S. Ott Foundation.

Ott, a native of Noblesville, Indiana, passed away from breast cancer in 2010. Before her passing, Ott said the goal of the organization is “to bring as much joy, happiness and laughter into the lives of the families we support.” 

Through the foundation, Anderson and her husband were able to take a trip to Florida. 

“It was the first trip that we have ever taken, just the two of us,” she said. “That trip was a breath of fresh air ... I will be volunteering for the Megan S. Ott Foundation, to help spread sunshine to young mothers who suffer from breast cancer.” 

Anderson’s oldest son also got to attend Camp Kesem, a camp for children who have parents that have or have had cancer. According to the camp’s website, in 2017, more than 7,300 children were served by the organization. 

“The Camp Kesem family becomes family,” Anderson said. “They do so much for the kids and the kids get to go away each summer and have a blast. They don’t charge for it. The Ball State students that are a part of Camp Kesem raise money through out the year. They work so hard and they LOVE these kids.” 

One thing that stood out to Anderson during the past year was the cost of treatment. 

“Cancer is so expensive,” she said. “I knew it would be expensive, but this will take decades to pay off. Twenty percent of the radiation cost is more than what most people make in a year, and that doesn’t include surgeries, chemo, testing or just normal doctor visits.” 

In January, Anderson will undergo her first reconstruction surgery, something she calls “another little piece of normal.” Two or three more reconstrutive surgeries could follow, and she will have to see at least one of her doctors every three months.

“I am proud to be a survivor,” Anderson said. “Although this isn’t something I would have ever wanted for myself or my family, I feel like we are all stronger because of it. If we can get through this, we can get through anything ... My journey is far from over, but I want to be an example for my kids and for others fighting battles. You can do hard things. You may have to take it one day at a time, but you can do hard things.” 

Mountain Lion

In case you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go through cancer treatment, it’s something like this: One day, you’re minding your own business. You open the fridge to get some breakfast and oh my God there’s a mountain lion in your fridge. 

Wait, what? How? Why is there a mountain lion in your fridge? No time to explain. Run! The mountain lion will kill you unless you find something even more ferocious to kill it first. So you take off running and the mountain lion is right behind you. You know the only thing that can kill a mountain lion is a bear, and the only bear is on top of the mountain, so you better find that bear.

You start running up the mountain in hopes of finding the bear. Your friends desperately want to help, but they are powerless against mountain lions as mountain lions are Godless killing machines. But they really want to help, so they’re cheering you on and bringing you paper cups of water and orange slices as you run up the mountain and yelling at the mountain lion “Get lost mountain lion, no one likes you.” 

And you really appreciate the support, but the mountain lion is still coming. Also, for some reason, there’s someone in the crowd who’s yelling “That’s not really a mountain lion, it’s a puma” and another person yelling “I read that mountain lions are allergic to kale, have you tried rubbing kale on it?”

As you’re running up the mountain, you see other people fleeing their own mountain lions. Some of the mountain lions seem comparatively wimpy. They’re half grown and only have three legs or whatever, and you think to yourself, “Why couldn’t I have gotten one of those mountain lions?” But then you look over at the people who are fleeing mountain lions the size of a monster truck with huge, prehistoric saber fangs and you feel like a butthole for even thinking that. And besides, who in their right mind would want to fight a mountain lion, even a three-legged one?

Finally, the person closest to you, whose job it is to take care of you, maybe a parent or sibling or best friend or, in my case, my husband, comes barging out of the woods and jumps on the mountain lion, whaling on it and screaming “Gosh dang it mountain lion, stop trying to eat my wife” and the mountain lion punches your husband right in the face.

Now your husband (or whatever) is rolling around on the ground clutching his nose and he’s bought you some time, but you still need to get to the top of the mountain. Eventually you reach the top, finally, and the bear is there. Waiting. For both of you. You rush right up to the bear, and the bear rushes the mountain lion, but the bear has to go through you to get to the mountain lion, and in doing so, the bear totally kicks your butt, but not before it also punches your husband in the face.

And your husband is now staggering around with a black eye and bloody nose and saying “Can I get some help? I’ve been punched in the face by two apex predators and I think my nose is broken” and all you can say is “I’m kind of busy in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m fighting a mountain lion.”

Then, if you are lucky, the bear leaps on the mountain lion and they are locked in epic battle until finally the two of them roll off a cliff edge together and the mountain lion is dead. Maybe. You’re not sure. It fell off the cliff, but mountain lions are crafty. It could come back at any moment. And all your friends come running up to you and say “That was amazing! You’re so brave. We’re so proud of you! You didn’t die! That must be a huge relief!”

Meanwhile, you blew out both your knees, you’re having an asthma attack, you twisted your ankle and also you have been mauled by a bear. And everyone says “Boy, you must be excited to walk down the mountain!”

And all you can think as you stagger to your feet is “Screw this mountain, I never wanted to climb it in the first place.”

– Source: Anonymous author, taken from the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivor’s Network website, csn.cancer.org.